You can reduce your risk of shingles with a simple vaccine.
There's a good chance you had chickenpox as a child, but you may not remember for certain. Having chickenpox as a child puts you at risk of developing shingles as an adult. Shingles is a viral infection that affects about one-third of the United States population, mostly adults over 60, with approximately one million new cases every year.
The good news is that there are shingles vaccines available that can help prevent the development of this uncomfortable condition. Even if you don't remember whether you had chickenpox or not, if you're an adult age 50 or older you should get vaccinated.
What is Shingles?
Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you've had chickenpox, this virus remains in your body and can reappear later in your life as shingles.
The initial symptoms of shingles may include pain, tingling, numbness, and itching. Some people may also experience fever, headache, chills, fatigue, or an upset stomach.
Between one and fourteen days after the initial symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, a rash consisting of fluid-filled blisters will appear. They can be painful and itchy and usually appear in a single stripe along one side of your face and torso, although they can be more widespread as well. Within about a week, those blisters will turn to scabs and can take up to four weeks to heal completely.
Shingles can be contagious in certain situations. People who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine can develop chickenpox (not shingles) if they are exposed to fluid from the blisters of a person with shingles. Once the blisters scab over, they are no longer contagious.
How to Prevent Shingles
There is no cure for shingles, but there are vaccines available to protect against it. The newest and preferred vaccine is Shingrix®. It is recommended for all healthy adults age 50 and older, even if they aren't sure if they have had chickenpox in the past, or if they have already had shingles. Two doses of the Shingrix vaccine, spaced two to six months apart, is more than 90 percent effective at preventing shingles and its complications. For at least the first four years after it's administered, the vaccine remains about 85 percent effective. For those who do develop shingles, the vaccine helps reduce the length and severity of the symptoms and complications.
Zostavax®, a vaccine in use since 2006, is recommended for adults age 60 and older. It is less effective than Shingrix, but can still be used if a person prefers Zostavax, is allergic to Shingrix, or if Shingrix is not available and immediate vaccination is requested. If you were initially vaccinated with Zostavax, it is recommended that you be revaccinated with Shingrix. Consult your Rite Aid pharmacist to determine the best time to get Shingrix.
The unpleasant and painful symptoms of shingles usually pass within two to four weeks. In some cases, though, shingles can lead to longer-term complications.
Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is a shingles-related condition in which pain continues after the scabs have healed. PHN is the result of damaged nerve fibers sending pain signals from your skin to your brain. This pain can last several weeks, months, or even longer and might range from mild to intense. If you have shingles or are recovering, schedule regular checkups with your doctor to monitor your progress.
If you have questions about the vaccination or need additional shingles vaccine recommendations, talk with your Rite Aid Pharmacist about the options that are available to you and schedule your appointment today.
By Joelle Klein
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
Medline Plus, Shingles
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Shingles Vaccination
Mayo Clinic, Shingles
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Recombinant Shingles VIS
The History of Vaccines, Chickenpox